Imbued with insights drawn from modern psychology, folk-wisdom and the deepest wellsprings of a thinking heart, Das Mahavidya becomes an evolutionary scale for humans, a methodology for walking the spiritual path. It shows a way to coalesce immanent and transcendent, human and sublime, desire and illumination.
Prof. Som P. Ranchan is a multifaceted, creative phenomenon—immensely prolific, innovative and committed. He has to his credit a rich oeuvre comprising remarkably diverse range of discipline such as literature, psychology; folklore, myths, Indian ethos, religion, Buddhism, Indian spiritual systems and traditions etc. He continues to make complex areas and issues accessible and comprehensible to contemporary readers. Besides, he is a poet extraordinary; having written more than thirty volumes of poems and still going strong and vibrant.
Having taught and guided programmes and projects in various capacities in India and the U.S.A. Prof Ranchan served for long years as Professor and Chairperson, Department of English, Himachal Pradesh University, Shimla.
I had the opportunity of listening to Prof. Ranchan, formerly Professor and Chairperson, Department of English, Himachal Pradesh University, Shimla, in early nineties. The words and timbre have stayed with me all through. Years later, I had the good fortune of interacting with him and reading some of his poetry volumes. Each book and each conversation bore the indelible imprint of his creativity, openness and of a mind that feels and a heart that thinks. Each reading has made me aware afresh of the fact that Prof. Som P. Ranchan is a legend, a creative phenomenon—peerless and majestic. In creative writing and academics, he inarguably stands the tallest in north India and possibly the whole of the country.
I have been lucky the third time over. This time I have once again been very fortunate to receive Prof. Ranchan’s Das Mahavidyas in its pristine manuscriptal form. Reading it has been a delight and a highly illuminating experience. Das Mahavidyas is in a class by itself. It is an elaboration of the Kali rupa with her cycle of ten embodiments. In terms of iconography, it is a rich understanding of Tantra— the ancient Indian tradition wherein woman is the prime mover and ambassadress of evolution and enlightenment. Even if one were not initiated into these systems and strands, this book shows lucidly how the ten-formed Kali becomes a symbology typifying change, sensitization and upliftment. Imbued with insights drawn from modern psychology, folk-wisdom and the deepest wellsprings of a thinking heart and ‘feelingful’ mind, Prof. Ranchan’s Das Mahavidyas becomes an evolutionary scale for humans, a methodology for walking the spiritual path and, above all, a way to confluence the immanent and the transcendent, the human and the sublime, the desire and the illumination. In this sense, Kali—the presence, the symbol, the myth and the effulgent—in Das Mahavidyas becomes the reality that is palpable, accessible and yet mystically so potent and transformative. As I understand, Das Mahavidyas is a brilliant and much-needed attempt to humanize and modernize the Divinities. At the same time, it makes the ancient Indian Kali treatise much more comprehensive and comprehensible to contemporary readers. The importance of such a work in India—where everything and anything is given religious coating, elevated and thus made so hard to get at—cannot be overemphasized Prof. Ranchan’s Das Mahavidyas, therefore, enshrines a tremendous demystification of Kali and her various forms/rupas. Not surprisingly, this work need be read with a suspension of belief only to find, towards the end, that the belief has got richer, warmer and closer to human heart and spirit.
I hope and pray Das Mahavidyas reaches all the readers who need it. I wish the book all the success it so richly deserves.
Perhaps, a word or two is in order to explain the structure of Das Mahavidyas. In the first block stretching from Prologue to Chapters 1 to 10 explain in depth and detail the meaning of the ten goddesses from Kali to Kamla. In explaining them I used their iconography which holds the key to their symbolism and my especially Jungian background because Jung specializes in the language of archetypes which make themselves felt through symbolic activity.
The second block comprising Chapter 11 is an extended meditation on the ten goddesses in evocative poetry. This block should not be viewed as a repetition of the earlier disquisition. The symbols have to be grasped emotionally. Poetry is the natural medium for stirring up emotions. It is assumed that after the first two blocks the reader can have a fairly comprehensive grasp as to want to develop a personal meditative relation with one or two or three forms. The deeper relationship is secured through mantra. So the third block comprising Chapter 12 explains what mantra is and how mantra works. What the mantra is and how it works can be read independently too. India is a mantra soaked or permeated country. We recite mantras tonelessly, hysterically in temples. It is not realized that mantras have to be recited properly with reference to their resonances in order for them to reverberate and repercuss in our lives. So the material on the mantra has to be grasped properly. In fact, one can begin the relationship with a deity through sound. Traditionally, that is what is done.
If the recitation, audible or internal, is right, one’s consciousness will be stirred into experiences. To make sense of them, one can read relevant material on the deities. A sensing, feeling intellectual, imaginative relationship can be secured. This book favours the dialogue relationship as the culmination of placative and propitiatory relationship. The mystic of course prefers the identificatory relationship in which he reproduces within himself, in his behaviour and functioning, the major qualities of the Tsht or deity. Perhaps, the best ground is between dialogue and identificatory relationship. You are not doing away with your identity, you purge it and enlarge your consciousness. In identification you are the music while the music lasts. In wholesale, forced identification one runs the risk of hubris and inflation. And that is the bane of Hindu religiosity. The next block comprising Chapter 13 pans out and evaluates Das Mahavidyas in the larger context of the times, of patriarchy and feminism.
In the Postscript Das Mahavidyas is linked up with the goddess Durga. This chapter is concluded with an abbreviated reconsideration of the ten goddesses and their mantras are given and explained. It has to be understood that these mantras are given by the gurus at initiation which sows the mantra in the subtle body of the receiver, but the latter has to make it grow, using his initiative, staying power and active imagination, using the bent of his process, subjective, objective, evocative, creative, gestalting them in one’s own way.
This book dares outlining in depth and detail Pus Mahavidyas as long as it is understood that symbols which express certain facts of the mundane worlds, of the virat and certain realities physical, p5ychologkal and the relationships of the two in mythic poetic, cultural paradigms cannot be adequately expressed in rational, discursive discourse.
It is true that the rich and baffling symbology of Das Mahavidyas is outlined in Shakta Pramod, a rote tantric scripture in terms of mantra, visualization, yantra, nyasa, pranapratishta (archetypal introjeCtiofl5 and projections), in terms of a hundred names, the duration of sadhana, the result, but this symbology can 0Jy be used, if at all, by esoteric sadhaks. It is therefore timely and befitting that this symbology is explained in modern terms. What lung did for alchemy in his book Psychology and Alchemy should be done for this shaktic, tantric alchemy of the Eternal Feminine. Jung, of course, being a committed psychologist explained alchemy in psychological terms of his system. This chapter, however, will unfold the symbology of Pus Mahavidyas in interdisciplinary terms, using psychology, literature, religion’ metaphysics. The symbology will be dealt with in serial order. First, therefore, for Kali. In the Shakta story’ Kali is shown as shining in the sky. She is space-clad. The fact of her being space-clad is shown in her iconographic representation as being naked and nude. In Indian culture, Hindu culture, space-clad Digambar is attributed to a holy man who has achieved non-residual Nirvana. The non-residual Nirvanic beings have finally exited from the birth death cycle; they are not going to be born again. Mahavir, Tirathankar of Jams, and Buddha are seen as space-clad. Viewed from this perspective Kali is Niranjana. In the tantric story it is said that the universe of space has fifty-five places, areas, locations; fifty out of the fifty-five are empty. They are uninhabited, there is no life there. Fifty-five locations symbolize the concept of Shunyata so highly prized in Zen Buddhism, in Vedanta, etc as to be made synonymous with Nirvana, though technically Shunyata is regarded as a prelude to Nirvana, as a stage on way to the latter. Shunyata is explained psycho-sociologically as being free from identifications, familial, cultural, conceptual. Shunyata is also explained as realizing that no situation, interaction, perceptual, emotional, cognitive, is permanent because of temporal flux.
Kali, though space-clad and nude, is shown as wearing a necklace of skulls and a girdle of bones. The skulls and bones are remnants of the previous universe. They also show where the present universe is headed. Vivekananda used to especially impress upon Sister Nivedita, his chief disciple, that there are two basic realities, one is of Death and the second of love, and that Kali represents Death. He further used to say that if you live with Death reality in the core of consciousness, you are free from bondages, delusions and identifications. All exoteric practices, Hindu, Buddhistic, of the Sufis, incorporate an encounter with Death as a prelude to authentic living. Freud also postulates Death or Thanatos as a basic principle, one of the five; pleasure, reality, polarity, eros being the other four. Of course, early on, Freud’s understanding of Death was simplistic. He saw Eros as opposite to it. He did not see Thanatos as leading to enlightenment. All existentialists of our times, Sartre, .1-aspers, Heidegger, etc see an encounter with Death from the deeps of one’s consciousness as leading to a heightening of existence as a result of shedding of the false encrustation of essences. Encounter with Death is regarded by them as the encounter with the ultimate limit- situation.
All myths of all cultures postulate death-rebirth theme. So death-rebirth is a psychological reality experienced by all. The nature and quality of rebirth and transformation will depend upon the success and intensity of one’s encounter with Death. Regarded from this perspective, Kali is Death-Rebirth archetype of the Hindus.
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